Start-up makes SAN out of servers

Posted on December 11, 2007

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By Kevin Komiega

—Seanodes has entered the storage industry with a novel approach to creating high-performance virtual storage pools from the unused storage capacity found in application servers.

The company's software, called Exanodes, is based on a Shared Internal Storage architecture that reclaims existing storage resources to build a self-healing, self-organizing, storage infrastructure. Each node is capable of functioning as both an application and storage server, eliminating the need for dedicated storage servers.

An Exanodes cluster can accommodate 128 nodes and interoperates with any block storage device, disk drives, solid-state disk (SSD), RAID, and external DAS. The software allows for sustained read-or-write performance of several gigabytes per second and enables large numbers of internal disks to be managed as a single shared storage pool.

Exanodes also supports fast RAID rebuilds by distributing the RAID set across multiple network nodes so that, according to company claims, 1TB of data can be rebuilt in less than one hour, minimizing the risks of a second disk failure during the rebuild window.

The software can reclaim storage on Linux-based servers, with Windows compatibility expected in 2008. Seanodes is also in the process of developing a similar product for virtual machine (VM) environments.

"Our mission is to provide storage software solutions for commoditized infrastructures," says Frank Gana, director of business development at Seanodes. "Why should customers buy new servers when they own so much unused processing power, and why buy expensive external storage systems when they own largely unused storage capacity in their servers?"

Gana claims the Exanodes software does the same thing for storage that virtual machine technology does for servers. "We aggregate, claim, organize, and consolidate the direct-attached storage of application servers. We then present the pool of storage we create to the application or file system as if it were an external storage array," says Gana.

Pricing for the Exanodes software varies by configuration and starts at approximately $200 per managed server. "Pricing depends on the configuration, but it usually falls in line with that of a low-end SATA box," Gana claims.

International Data Corp. (IDC) has dubbed Seanodes' architecture an "inside-out SAN." Laura DuBois, IDC research director, storage software, says the benefits of the inside-out SAN are obvious. "All the aggregate formatted capacity is available to all the application computers. No stranded capacity exists, and there is no single point of failure since mirroring across systems is employed," she says.

DuBois believes the high-performance computing (HPC) market presents a large opportunity for the inside-out SAN concept. "The HPC methodology already relies on a tight integration between the server and the storage layer. These customers will likely be best conditioned to adopt this new way of addressing storage capacity needs," she says.

However, DuBois says the Seanodes approach is new, and it will require time for the technology to penetrate the market. "It's a new model and it will take time for people to get their heads around. Certainly, Seanodes is going to have to prove itself in terms of performance, reliability, scalability, etc.," she says.

DuBois expects more vendors will emerge with similar technologies if users take to the concept of the inside-out SAN. "I expect there will be more movement in this direction—on both the physical and virtual server side," she says.

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